As stated by Patrick Henry with conviction and passion, a democratic government will not last if its operations and policies are not visible to its public. The foundation of our democratic republic is supposed to be based on an open and accountable government. Transparency is what enables accountability.
For several decades post 1945, under the guise of the Cold War, with the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency and an aggressive foreign policy based on overt and covert intervention abroad, the seeds of excessive secrecy were planted, aggressively nurtured, and taken to heights not imaginable in our founding fathers’ vision of transparent and accountable government. Although the Watergate Scandal brought a short-lived wave of awakening, and to a certain degree defiance, by getting Americans to question the extent of and the real need for governmental secrecy, the subsequent political movements were eventually halted with no real action ever taken, thanks to a Congress unwilling to truly exercise its oversight authority over the intelligence community.
With the September 11 Terrorist Attacks the establishment had all it needed to take government secrecy to new heights where neither the Constitution nor the separation of powers would matter or be applicable. These new heights could never be reached in a functioning and live democracy, nor could they be sustained and flourish without a home marked by all the characteristics of a police state. Those new heights were indeed reached, and they surely have been not only sustained, but actually increased; notch by notch. Waving the national security flag nonstop, reminding us on a daily basis of some vague boogiemen terrorists who may be hiding under our beds, drilling the words terror-terrorists-terrorism every hour, did the magic; thanks to the US Media.
Let’s examine some of these new heights of secrecy we’ve reached and appear to have accepted:
For the fiscal year 2005, based on an official report released by the National Archives, the total security classification cost estimates for Government was $7.7 billion. This figure represents costs provided by 41 executive branch agencies, including the Department of Defense. But it does not include the cost estimates of the CIA, which is classified by the agency. Here is the breakdown:
Personnel Security = $1.15 Billion
Physical Security = $1 Billion
Information Security = $4 Billion
Information Technology = $3.6 Billion
Classification Management = $310 Million
Declassification = $57 Million
Professional Education and Training = $219 Million
Security Management and Planning = $1.2 Billion
Unique = $6.6 Million
Total= $7.7 Billion
Based on the consensus among the knowledgeable this was truly a new height for government secrecy spun out of control. But wait, this new record height was short-lived! It climbed much higher very quickly. Here is the major new height for 2007 secrecy as reported by the US Information Security Oversight Office:
The U.S. Information Security
Oversight Office recorded an all-time-high record in the cost of implementing the national security classification system.
The annual report, released Thursday, representing the classification and declassification activity throughout the executive branch, said the cost of national security classifications totaled $9.91 billion in 2007. The total cost was a 4.6 percent increase over 2006 and became the highest total recorded in ISOO’s history.
That’s right. In two years the cost of our government’s classification and its secrecy increased from $7.7 Billion to $9.91 Billion. And, as with the 2005 cost this too does not include the CIA and other classified operations and entities we don’t know about. Just keep in mind all those rendition, detention and torture operations we’ve been engaged in around the globe.
The following is a snap shot of a few items in the Secrecy Report Card for 2008 issued by Open the Government:
18% of DOD FY 2008 Acquisition Budget, equaling to more than $31 Billion, is classified.
Our Secret FISA Court issued 2,371 secret orders in 2007.
Over 25% of our Federal Government’s Contracts, equaling to $114 billion, were granted with no competition whatsoever.
Over 64% of the 7,067 meetings of Federal Advisory Committees on scientific technical areas were completely closed to the public.
What does this tell us? Secret Budgets, Secret Courts & Secret Orders, Secret Meetings, no-competition & no-oversight contracts paid by taxpayers’ dollars…
Secret Budgets, Secret Expenditures
What does it mean when we keep hearing secret budget for this agency, secret budget for that acquisition, secret budget for this and that operation? Take this example:
The Defense Department will spend $35.8 billion on secret technologies in 2010, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
“Restrictions placed on access to classified programs have meant that DoD and Congress typically exercise less oversight over classified programs than unclassified ones,” the report notes. That can result in big losses, when programs go awry.
Take the hush-hush Future Imagery Architecture program, meant to “develop the next generation of spy satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office.” “The electro-optical satellite component of the program was canceled in 2005 due to significant cost overruns and technical issues,” CSBA recalls, “resulting in what was reported as a $4 billion loss for the government.”
We’ve seen many examples like this; CIA, NSA, DOD, FBI…Here is another ludicrous example:
Growing by leaps and bounds, the Pentagon’s secretive Information Operations budget keeps tripping over some basic information — like how much it costs.
Just months ago, the Defense Department said it needed $988 million to help win hearts and minds in the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. When the House cut this by half in July, top-level officials landed on Capitol Hill, pleading their case but also making a startling admission: Their budget needs for 2010 are actually $626.2 million — more than one-third less than first estimated.
I know for some reason when it comes to our government expenditures the zeros attached to these dollar amounts don’t register with many. In this case we are talking about nearly $1 billion, and here is the dollar amount with zeros – $1,000,000,000. This is not an amount printed specifically and specially for our government to dispose of as it pleases, as it wishes, with secrecy, thus with immunity and no oversight. These dollars are your money, my money; our tax dollars. Think of these zeros spent with no accountability when you are thinking of your kids’ college funds, your medical bills, your ever-shrinking retirement funds…Then, tell me whether it sits okay with you to see our government spend your hard-earned dollars in secrecy, without your consent, and not to your benefit.
So what does the branch entrusted with oversight and accountability do when it comes to these secret budgets & expenditures? Nothing, really; after all it is shielded by secrecy and classification, and as long as they have a share of this pie, who gives a damn about the public interest?! A good example of this surfaced (unfortunately it quickly disappeared from the media radar) during the Representative Randy Cunningham Scandal. If you don’t remember the details you are not alone; Jennifer Aniston’s story and Brittany’s personal saga didn’t leave much room for major corruption scandals like this. You can read a snapshot of the case here, which describes the congressional corruption side of the story. The following excerpts from the same article have to do with the secrecy aspect of this issue, in 2005, when the Pentagon secret budget was around $22 billion:
The Pentagon’s classified budget for buying goods and services has increased by nearly 48% since 9/11 — from $18.2 billion in fiscal 2002 to $26.9 billion this year — according to figures compiled by the non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The budget has long been a repository for spending that members of Congress want to shield.
“We had a classified annex to our bill, and we would hide all sorts of things in there,” says Jim Currie, who worked as a Democratic staff member at the Senate Intelligence Committee until 1991 and now teaches at the National Defense University. “In theory, any member of Congress could find out about it, but in reality no one ever came in and checked. … It’s a beautiful way to hide something.”
Harold Relyea, who studies government secrecy at the Congressional Research Service, says even if lawmakers had the time to study classified programs, most are not inclined to question the pet projects of their colleagues. And within the defense industry, “there is a coziness that sometimes builds up. You are familiar with the company and their people, it’s easy to go back to them” for more work. “It’s a new phase of what we used to call the military-industrial complex.”
Neither Congress nor the executive branch regularly produces reports on oversight of classified spending. None has been made during the buildup after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Without such investigations, it’s impossible to know whether, or to what extent, the classified “black budget” is being abused.
The details of these secret aka black budgets are revealed to only a very few select Congressional committee members, and sometimes not even to them. Billions of dollars go to defense companies like the infamous Blackwater (Xe), billions into illegal and immoral operations involving extraordinary renditions, torture and assassinations, billions get lost in secret planes destined to some secret countries for some secret objective, billions are lost due to mismanagement and bad accounting practices…This is our money, and this is supposed to be our government, but the former doesn’t matter while the latter no longer holds true. That part is no longer a secret.
Secret Courts, Secret Hearings
This is a topic I can write about and talk about in detail. Those of you familiar with my case and the invocation of the draconian State Secrets Privilege know this already. Those of you who are not, here are a few excerpts from only one of many unconstitutional secrecy practices I had to endure for almost six years:
A federal court in Washington yesterday took the rare step of closing an entire oral argument to the public in the case of a former FBI translator who says she was fired for complaining about security breaches. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit announced that today’s 30-minute argument in the case of Sibel Edmonds, a Middle Eastern language specialist fired in 2002, will be conducted behind closed doors. The court gave no reason for its decision.
The Washington Post and 12 other media organizations also filed an emergency motion urging the court to open the arguments. The Justice Department declined to comment. It has urged dismissal of Edmonds’s case and contends that the litigation could lead to disclosure of classified information. But the court decided to close today’s hearing without a request from the government.
This was one of many similar actions by our government to cover up criminal acts and illegal operations using their regularly-employed secrecy card. This was not a case related to some terrorist, or, intelligence gathering method, or, anything that in any way would warrant protection of information. All they (the Federal Government) had to do: tell the courts, the judges, that they deemed everything about me and my case classified. That’s it. Period. No supporting documents, no witnesses, no explanation. They could just say so, and get what they wanted from the other branch which theoretically exists for the purpose of checks and balances; the purpose and the separation that was once upon a time but it isn’t any longer.
This same secrecy card, invocation of state secrets privilege, classification, has been used to shield the government, prevent oversight, and prohibit even the chance of government accountability in case after case: NSA’s illegal domestic wiretapping, torture, government whistleblowers, Inspector General investigations and findings…
Let’s go back to our Secret Court with Secret Orders: Our Secret FISA Court issued 2,371 secret orders in 2007. If you are wondering how the Feds get their federal judges to go along with their unjustified, unwarranted, and in some cases unconstitutional secrecy requests, this may answer it for you to a certain extent: Secrecy Compliance by Judges with a Secret Past. What do I mean by that? Okay, here is a real example, with a real case:
The case involves Judge Reggie Walton who was promoted to the FISA-Secret Court towards the end of the Bush Administration. He is a judge with a really questionable background, who was handpicked by Bush Senior to work in the Drug Czar’s office (I guess you have a pretty good idea of the real qualifications needed for heading that office!). However, you and I, the American Public, are not allowed to know this judge’s deep dark history, despite his record of many questionable rulings. Judge Reggie Walton’s real past and his real finances are secret:
What do two of the biggest national-security news stories of the century — the Valerie Plame leak scandal and the legal case of FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds — have in common? They both are being presided over by the same federal judge in the District of Colombia, Reggie Walton, a Bush appointee to the federal court and a man who appears to have a few well-kept secrets of his own.
All federal judges are required under ethics rules to file what is known as “financial disclosure reports.” The disclosure statement filed by Walton, which was obtained through the dogged efforts of a conservative watchdog group called Judicial Watch, is curious in what it does not reveal. Remember, this judge is arguably handling two of the most sensitive and potentially far-reaching challenges to the free press and the public’s right to know of our times.
So Judge Walton seems to be in a critical role in serving as the point man in the federal judicial system for two explosive cases — the Edmonds civil case and Libby’s criminal case — both of which have vast implications for the White House and for the country in general. So shouldn’t we know who’s buttering Walton’s bread in terms of financial backing? Why have ethics rules mandating such disclosures, if the information is not disclosed in cases, such as these, where the stakes are so high?
Well, it seems, at least according to the only document that Judicial Watch could shake loose in its public-records quest, that Walton doesn’t think so. His financial disclosure statement, the one released for public inspection through Judicial Watch, is completely redacted, every line of it. Take a look here for yourself.
Now, ask yourself, why would that be, and what might lurk in the shadows of Judge Walton’s fiscal closet? If there nothing to hide, then there is nothing to lose by shedding some light on the retractions, is there?
This appears to be one way for the federal government to overcome the burden of the Constitution and separation of powers: Hand select and appoint federal judges with secret pasts and secret financials, and in fact promote them to the secret courts where these thousands of secret orders take place every year.
Secret Investigations, Secret Reports, Secret Documents
So what happens when once in a blue moon you get a little bit of congressional pressure and or media coverage, thus forcing the government to investigate itself? That’s right, the body called the Office of Inspector General, OIG, is just that. It is used when the government is pressured to provide somewhat of an explanation, answer, on cases and scandals that have garnered some level of public attention/scrutiny. One of the offices of the government, with employees who are answerable to the government and paid by the government, is given the task to investigate that same government.
You would think with that much leverage and control the government would not give a hoot about the resulting report card prepared and issued by its own humble servants. You would be wrong. Even then, the government, without having to justify or prove anything, can declare the findings, the report, secret and classified. Let’s get this straight: The purpose, in the first place, for having an IG investigation and report, is to inform the people and their congressional representatives. Yet, that same government can then declare the report, or any portion of that report, secret and classified.
Actually, seeing an IG report that has been redacted by government bosses will put this in perspective. After three years of foot-dragging, due to a certain degree of public pressure and initial congressional requests, the Justice Department’s Inspector General finally issued a report on my case. Here is what the original report looks like: here. Who decides what gets to be redacted? Of course – the mighty government. What are the reasons, what is the justification? No one knows; they are all secret. Why are these reasons secret? You have no right to know, because the reasons themselves are secret to start with. You think I’m joking? I kid you not. After the above redacted report I fought for another two years in courts to find the answers to these same questions. We ended up with one answer; one word: Secret.
The recent developments on the release of torture pictures is another good example:
Specifically, the coalition’s letter requests that President Obama direct the Department of Defense to comply with court orders mandating disclosure of photos documenting detainee abuse, rather than exercise an authority recently granted by Congress to keep them secret. It also “explain[s] why transparency and robust accountability are a strategic national security imperative, and…expose[s] the self-interest of voices counseling against accountability.”
How about a desperate Congress begging the right to information they are entitled to get in the first place?
Anticipating that the debate over reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act will soon come to the Senate floor, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday asked Attorney General Eric Holder to declassify key information about how the law’s “business records provision” has been used. They last sent a classified letter in June asking for the same thing, but claim they’ve received no response.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act, known as the “business records provision,” relaxed the previous standard the government had to meet to obtain personal information from banks, hospitals, libraries, retail stores and other institutions. Previously, the government had to show that it had evidence that the person whose records it sought was a terrorist or spy. With passage of the Patriot Act, that standard was lowered to permit the government to collect any records it considered “relevant to an investigation.”
Wyden, Feingold and Durbin have been arguing that the relevance standard is far too broad and violates the privacy rights of ordinary law-abiding Americans. But they also claim that the government is withholding key information from Congress that would allow lawmakers to make an informed judgment about the issue. Although it’s not clear exactly what information they’re talking about, since even a description of the information is classified, it would seem to be information about how the government has used the business records provision, and what evidence it has obtained by its use.
Doesn’t this sound pathetic? We the people, through our representatives, the supposed-to-be masters of our nation, begging the supposed-to-be civil servants for information on how and based on what guidelines our government operates?
As for any indication of changes for the good in this area of excessive secrecy with impunity, there seems to be none. In fact, our new President of changes is intending to take it even further, to ludicrous levels. Here is one recent outrageous and Kafkaesque move by the Obama administration (Pay special attention to the sadly funny title!):
The Obama administration is conducting a workshop on government openness for federal employees behind closed doors Monday, a private training session for freedom-of-information officials to learn about a new U.S. office that settle disputes between the bureaucracy and the public.
The decision to preclude the public and the media from attending Monday’s openness workshop left advocates scratching their heads, given President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to make his administration the most transparent ever.
“If they’re getting marching orders, why shouldn’t the public be there?” said Jeff Stachewicz, founder of Washington-based FOIA Group Inc., which files hundreds of requests every month across the government on behalf of companies, law firms and news organizations.
I can go on and fill page after page with facts, cases, and examples of our government’s current and worsening state when it comes to transparency, thus to its degree of accountability to we the people. However, I think you get the picture and the picture is crystal clear. Therefore I expect many of you feel the outrage building up, and the desire to bring about real changes bubbling inside you. Because if these points don’t sound outrageous and if they don’t make the state of our liberties look dire and pathetic, then we are all in deep trouble. If we accept secret budgets, if we say ‘okay’ to secret courts, if we shrug off secret hearings and reports, if we unquestioningly pay for secret operations, if we assume indifference to a government operating and hidden in pure secrecy…then we deserve to be a nation of liberty-less servants serving the masters in a secret government, and live in denial of having become inhabitants of a true police state.